The war on women in Texas is far from over, but a battle has been won. On Friday, a federal judge in Austin, TX blocked a new rule that would have forced more than half of the abortion clinics left in the state to close.
The rule, which would have required all abortion clinics to meet the same equipment, staffing, and building standards of surgical centers, was to take effect Monday — but one heroic judge has taken a stand for women’s rights. Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the requirement would have placed undue hardships on women seeking abortions without providing significant medical benefits.
Yeakel wrote in his opinion that the rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion.”
Predictably, Texas officials plan to appeal the decision. “The state disagrees with the court’s ruling and will seek immediate relief from the Fifth Circuit,” said Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general.
Women’s right’s advocates, however, were pleased with the decision. Whole Women’s Health, which operates abortion clinics in the state, said through spokesman Amy Hagstrom Miller that, “We are extremely pleased by Judge Yeakel’s ruling today. As he clearly states in his decision, requiring every abortion clinic to turn into a surgical center is excessive and not based on good medicine.” Miller added, “It’s an undue burden for women in Texas—and thankfully today the court agreed. The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety.”
Had Yeakel not taken action, more than a dozen clinics would be forced to close because they would be unable to afford to renovate or open new facilities that met the unnecessary standards for hallway width, ceiling height, advanced ventilation equipment, and parking spaces.
The rule would have left Texas with only seven or eight clinics, all in major cities. Women living in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley would have lived more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic in San Antonio.
Earlier this year, another Texas judge dismissed concerns that forcing poor women to make a 300 mile round trip to find a provider presents an undue burden. Judge Edith Jones suggested that they should just drive fast to get to a clinic. “Do you know how long that takes in Texas at 75 miles an hour? This is a peculiarly flat and not congested highway,” Jones coldly said.
However, Yeakel disagreed with those, like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (Republican candidate for Governor) who say that the distance poses no unconstitutional burden because 86% of women of reproductive age would live within 150 miles of a clinic if the law were in place.
“Even if the remaining clinics could meet the demand,” he wrote, the distance and other issues caused by the requirements would be as damaging as “a complete ban on abortion.”
In his opinion, Yeakel shot down conservative claims that the law was needed to protect patients. “The great weight of the evidence demonstrates that, before the act’s passage, abortion in Texas was extremely safe, with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths,” he wrote.